Removing the “Black Hole”: Creating virtual community building activities (VCBA) for online students and faculty.

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Communication, collaboration, and connection strategies for taking the “distance” out of distance education are discussed by academic leadership from one large, accredited, online university with high faculty satisfaction and retention rates. Current strategies, including coffee chats, newsletters, webinars, professional organization activities, and faculty recognition for enhanced student connections are discussed.


Dr. Armstrong serves as Academic Program Director of the School of Health Sciences undergraduate programs. She has represented Walden in a national radio tour on childhood obesity and family fitness. Her recent publications have been included in the American Journal of Health Education, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, and the Journal of American College Health. Dr. Armstrong is a frequent presenter at national and international conferences on health education priorities for online learners. Dr. Armstrong received the American Alliance of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance’s Young Professional Leadership award in 2010. She helped implement Partners in Wellness, a cancer prevention/screening program for the underserved population in northwest Louisiana. A certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and running coach, Dr. Armstrong founded YOUth FIT and Kids on the Run, community programs that mentor kids in achieving and maintaining fitness.

Extended Abstract

Building a sense of community with students and faculty in the virtual academic environment has challenges and can sometimes feel like a black hole. Creating satisfied faculty and students is central to the OLC’s Learning Effectiveness, Faculty and Student Satisfaction Pillars of Quality Online Education (Online Learning Consortium, 2017). In 2016, 94% of undergraduate faculty, 86% of graduate faculty, and 81% of students in the School of Health Sciences reported being satisfied or very satisfied as a faculty member or student at Walden University. Incorporating activities that facilitate the ability for students to connect with a faculty member outside of the classroom has proven to provide students additional support and encouragement in the academic environment and professional pursuits. Virtual community building activities (VCBA) furtherance the OLC Pillars of Quality Online Education. Academic leadership from the respective programs will discuss their current communication, collaboration, and connection strategies for taking the “distance” out of distance education.

A diverse collection of VCBAs that facilitate connection and sense of community for both faculty and students will be presented. Shared ideas, successes/failures, and best practices for building a virtual academic sense of community will also be reviewed and discussed. Participants are invited and encouraged to exchange suggestions and ideas with administrators to help maintain a successful, supportive atmosphere for both students and faculty members in virtual communities. Participants will also prepare a VCBA that champions a community building opportunity for their virtual environment.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Identify variables that impact online faculty and student satisfaction rates.

  2. Demonstrate activities that have enhanced faculty communication, collaboration, and connections.

  3. Demonstrate activities that have enhanced student communication, collaboration, and connections.

  4. Prepare a virtual community building activity (VCBA) that supports the academic environment and builds engagement amongst faculty and students.   


Online Learning Consortium. (2017). Our quality framework. Retrieved April 12, 2017, from